Oxford, £25 (1055pp). £22.50 from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030
AIA Guide to New York City by Norval White, Elliot Willensky and Fran Leadon
Friday 01 October 2010
In a brief, rapturous section of Woody Allen's Hannah and Her Sisters, an architect shows two women some favourite buildings in New York City. This huge and gloriously entertaining book is like that snippet extended to 1000 pages. It encompasses Allen's selection of the Dakota Apartments on Central Park West ("a prestige address since this part of the City was thought as remote as Dakota Territory"), the Waldorf-Astoria ("grand and sedate art deco"), the Chrysler Building ("stainless steel not only burnished the lance-like spire and cowl... but formed the gargantuan radiator-top gargoyles") and the galleon-like windows of the New York Yacht Club ("a fanciful example of Beaux Arts design, baroque division"), but picks out different plums from the Big Apple. Considering the Woolworth Building, a Gothic tower built between 1910-1913 in lower Manhattan, the American Institute of Architects Guide declares, "only the Seagram and CBS Buildings have the combination of articulate architecture and massing to achieve similar drama." It also maintains that the Brooklyn Bridge is "New York's supreme icon and most wondrous man-made object." The Guide also finds space to praise the Shake Shack in Madison Square Park both architecturally and gastronomically: "One of the best new buildings in recent memory... the best burgers, hot dogs, milk shakes in the City".
Though a bit too big for lugging round the streets, the Guide is a vital tool for identifying the buildings that catch the stroller's eye. The swooping skyscraper at Sixth Avenue and W43rd that broadens like a ski-jump as it reaches street level is an "anarchist in the streetscape". The "staccato setbacks and rounded corners" of 488 Madison Avenue produce "one of the high-style office buildings of the Fifties": the perfect Mad Men location.
Though this book has the edge on Pevsner in scope, humour and approachability, it is not without flaws. The tiled catacomb of Grand Central Oyster Bar (on this reviewer's list of NYC favourites) does not merit an illustration. We're told that the Guggenheim Museum's "central space is one of the... great modern interiors" but nothing about the impact of the building's extraordinary exterior on the staid Upper East Side. But in straitened times, with a trip to New York increasingly the stuff of dreams, this exuberant and scrupulous guide gives you the city of cities for the cost of a couple of Manhattan cocktails.
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